5 Key Senators To Watch In Upcoming Supreme Court Confirmation Battle A narrowly divided Senate is putting two Republican women who support abortion rights and three red-state Democrats in the spotlight as the critical votes in the Supreme Court confirmation process.
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5 Senators Who Will Likely Decide The Next Supreme Court Justice

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5 Senators Who Will Likely Decide The Next Supreme Court Justice

5 Senators Who Will Likely Decide The Next Supreme Court Justice

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Keep two lists in mind as Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy retires. One is the list of possible nominees to replace him. President Trump has interviewed at least four people. The Associated Press says they include, among others, a woman, Amy Barrett, and an Indian-American, Amul Thapar, whose mere mention has led to headlines in India. And then there's the list of senators the nominee may need to be confirmed. Five swing votes are on the mind of NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis, who's on the line.

Hi, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK. So two Republicans, which we'll talk about, but also three Democrats are considered swing votes. Who are they?

DAVIS: These are three Democrats who represent red states that Donald Trump won big in 2016. That includes Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. We should note that President Trump, tonight, is on his way to West Virginia to hold a campaign rally. He did a similar rally last week in North Dakota in which he did bring up the Supreme Court and keep pressure on Heidi Heitkamp.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

DAVIS: So we're looking to see that tonight. You know, as you well know, there are 10 Democrats in states that Donald Trump won. But these three matter for really one reason. They're the only three Democrats who voted for Neil Gorsuch, who is Donald Trump's first nominee to the court. And there is very little expectation on Capitol Hill that if you are a Democrat who voted no on Neil Gorsuch, you would get to yes on whoever it is to replace Anthony Kennedy because he is seen as such a critical swing vote on the court.

INSKEEP: Would we presume, aside from just wanting to get the job done, that this is one reason Mitch McConnell, the Senate leader, would want to push for this vote before the election - because it pressures these very three Democrats to get on board?

DAVIS: Absolutely. And I think that's why the leader is looking to get this done before the midterms. I mean, think about what has already been happening in politics this year even before this seat became vacant. It's regularly being referred to as the year of the woman.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

DAVIS: And specifically, who's showing up is Democratic women, which is why I think we've already seen groups that support abortion rights, groups like Planned Parenthood, groups like NARAL, saying that they are going to mobilize their members this year on this vote and on this issue. I think that makes it really tough for people, specifically like Joe Donnelly and Joe Manchin, who have historically been some of the most conservative Democrats on the issue of abortion and have often voted with the side of abortion opponents. In some ways, they're the political reverse of Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, who are Republicans who have sided...

INSKEEP: Oh, yeah.

DAVIS: ...With abortion rights groups. You know, how they balance this equation between the political realities of their states, their own personal views and not alienating the Democratic women who are exactly who they need to show up to give them a fighting chance to win re-election is really one of the hardest tightropes I think you could walk in politics right now.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

DAVIS: And for Susan Collins and Murkowski, I would just say, the pressure's on them, too, of course, but not the immediate pressure. They're not up for re-election this year. They've got a couple years before that happens. And as I have noted before, Susan Collins has never voted no on a Supreme Court nominee.

INSKEEP: Has never voted no on a Supreme Court nominee. And I suppose we should remember again, she has raised concerns about someone who has demonstrated, as she put it, hostility to Roe v. Wade, a decision that she supports. But that doesn't mean that somebody who might overturn that decision might not get her vote.

DAVIS: It's true. But, you know, the president is calling from this list of 25 names. These were names that were all vetted by conservative groups that include the Federalist Society, the Heritage Foundation and the Susan B. Anthony List, which is a group that opposes abortion rights. I talked to Susan B. Anthony's List this week, and they told me that they would be OK with any of the nominees on the president's list, which gives you an indication that the abortion opponents believe that any jurist on that list would probably side with their view on abortion rights. So I think that makes it harder for Senator Collins to say that they don't believe the nominee would overturn the decision. And, you know, this list of 25, as you mentioned - he met with four of the nominees. And the president is still expected to make his final decision by Monday.

INSKEEP: A couple of other names on that list - we mentioned two already - Brett Kavanaugh and Kethridge (ph) is another one. So just tell me where this process goes from here, Sue Davis.

DAVIS: Historically, it takes about two to three months to get a nominee through the court. You know, we've seen that if - as long as there is no, you know, anything that derails a nominee, they should be on track. For comparison's sake, from nomination to confirmation, it took the Senate 65 days to confirm Neil Gorsuch. If the president makes his announcement on Monday, he will have 84 days between Monday and when the next court session starts on October 1, which is when Mitch McConnell has said he fully intends to have that nominee confirmed by.

INSKEEP: NPR's Sue Davis, thanks very much.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

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